Kids liking math? Suburban teachers say LearnStorm challenge works

Khan Academy's online lessons are like video games, teacher says

 
 
Updated 2/12/2016 11:18 AM
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It's the latest rage in getting students excited about math -- an online challenge that rewards not just the kids who are proficient but also those who work hard.

About 45,000 third- through 12th-grade students in Chicago and the suburbs are participating in the LearnStorm challenge through Khan Academy, which provides online math practice exercises and instructional videos focusing on solving problems aligned with national Common Core standards, which also are used in standardized testing. Students can track their own progress through a personalized learning dashboard.

The program is designed to supplement math class, but one math teacher has made it the only curriculum in his classroom at Fenton High School in Bensenville.

"It was as if someone flipped a switch," said Peter Carzoli, who teaches algebra and statistics and has about 250 students participating in the LearnStorm challenge. "I finally became the teacher I wanted to be."

The 20-year educator said he's tried various new teaching methods and never was satisfied with the results until switching from the traditional, book-based curriculum for algebra and upper-level calculus classes to these online resources.

"Two things changed -- the role of the teacher in the classroom and the experience of the students," Carzoli said. "They were no longer dependent on me to teach them everything."

The videos and online instruction, he added, "have a bit of the flavor of a video game. It is very seductive and enticing. It really pulls kids in. My students are engaged from the time the bell rings until the time the class is over. I used to have to work so hard to make that happen."

The nine-week-long digital challenge, which started in the San Francisco Bay Area, is offered to school districts free by Khanacademy.org., founded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google.

Sal Khan, CEO and founder of Khan Academy, created the LearnStorm math challenge that rewards students not just for being good at math, but also for putting forth a serious effort. More than 45,000 students from Chicago and suburban school districts are participating.
Sal Khan, CEO and founder of Khan Academy, created the LearnStorm math challenge that rewards students not just for being good at math, but also for putting forth a serious effort. More than 45,000 students from Chicago and suburban school districts are participating. - Courtesy of Khan Academy

"We are going to celebrate schools and students that show grit, perseverance and hustle, more than just even who happens to know the most math," said Sal Khan, CEO and founder of Khan Academy. "The whole point is regardless of what level a student is at, what matters is they are pushing themselves and persevering."

In the math challenge, students can earn two types of points: for "mastery" -- showing understanding of math skills -- and "hustle," earned when a student demonstrates resolve when learning a new skill. All this is aimed at encouraging students to take a stake in making progress.

Weekly leader boards track how students and schools are performing, and there will be challenges with real-world projects for participating schools. To view how participating schools are performing or to sign up for the challenge through April 1, visit learnstorm2016.org. The competition is open to public, private and parochial schools, as well as home-schooled students.

Meagan Stass, a seventh-grade math teacher at Barrington Middle School's Prairie campus where her nearly 150 students are participating in the LearnStorm challenge, is impressed by the enthusiasm the program generates.

"My kids are so pumped," she said.

Seventh-grade teacher Meagan Stass says the LearnStorm challenge has her students  'pumped' about math at Barrington Middle School's Prairie campus.
  Seventh-grade teacher Meagan Stass says the LearnStorm challenge has her students 'pumped' about math at Barrington Middle School's Prairie campus. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Math competitions, she added, are not new, but the "hustle points" bring in kids who might not easily excel at math.

"For those kids that really struggle and stick with it, that's the best part of teaching math to see them keep working, wanting to learn it," Stass said. "It's a very different way to think about what does it mean to be good in math. You are actually problem-solving or working through a challenge. ... To me, that's so important."


How Khan Academy teaches


• It's an online educational resource offering practice exercises, instructional videos and materials on various subjects, including math, science, computer programming, history, art history, and economics.

• Students can study at their own pace in and outside the classroom. It features a personalized learning dashboard for students to monitor progress.

• Math missions guide learners from kindergarten to calculus using adaptive technology identifying strengths and learning gaps.

• Its partners include NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences, and MIT, which offer specialized content.

• Its founder, Sal Khan, a graduate of MIT and Harvard, started Khan Academy in 2005 to help his cousins learn math.

• Founding partners include Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google.

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